My dash up to Cincinnati was put under strain right away when I arrived at the airport to discover that I'd lost my driver's license (I found it a week later at Patois, where I must have dropped it when paying for dinner out with the Cahills after my Yamauchi Lecture). While I was allowed to proceed after producing alternative ID (my Loyola faculty card, my Marquette grad student card, and credit cards), I was then sent over to a maximum security screening where all my stuff was swabbed for explosive residue and where I was felt up by a very polite one-armed man. ("I get that every time I fly," quipped a curvy friend of mine as I was relating the story to her.) All this was complicated by my flight actually being canceled, and me being put on a later flight, arriving at 7:30pm rather than 4:30pm, which I worried would destroy my dinner plans. Then I left my boarding pass in security, though a different polite man (two-armed) tracked my down and delivered to me. Kind of a wretched morning. It was made better by meeting one Alyssa C. on the flight, and having fun random chat about travel and hometowns along the way.
My meetings in Cincinnati were fruitful and pleasant, and I'll have to see what comes of them, if anything. If nothing else, I got to know something of a sharp group of colleagues, all of whom could talk about things they were doing that I found fascinating. A little after five, Joe found me and we were off to his and Daniele's place for the weekend. We actually met Daniele and Nate at a Chinese Food/Geothermal Energy place (no joke!) that Joe likes, where Nathan seemed delighted to see me, but not at all thrown by the fact that I existed in the real world and not just on the family computer.
The entire weekend was then spent in a low-key way around the house, which was just what I wanted. Lots of time to catch up with Joe and Daniele without the usual bustle of seeing them at large family gatherings. There's certainly nothing wrong with those, of course, but I was struck by how much different the conversation was in not just having to hit the "highlights" of what was going on. So incidentals of child-care/Nate-raising could slide in along with what Joe and Daniele were doing at work, or just random topics of movies, books, yard design and whatnot. Friday night, after Daniele had gone to bed, Joe and I were in the basement, just looking through his books to see if there was a Philip K. Dick story in his collection that he was remembering, and I found myself realizing that, as I told Joe when he dropped me off at the airport on Sunday, we'd still been brothers for years, but it's been a long time since we could just be friends, too. We haven't had the same address – even for vacations – since the mid-'90s.
On Saturday evening, Dave, Daniele's fabulously gregarious dad, who I hadn't seen since Nathan's baptism, took us out to dinner. Other than a meltdown as were getting ready to leave, Nate did quite well with being out (not too many of his piercing squeals of excitement) and I got a kick out of seeing how Nathan reacted to his grandfather. While my nieces have "shyness" as their default setting, which you then have to earn your way through, Nathan treats the arrival of every new person as though they had magically appeared just for his own entertainment. I remember my Mom saying something like she thought that we could probably hand Nathan off to a total stranger to watch and Nate would be just as pleased as if he were surrounded by family. So to see him cheer for the arrival of Dave just as much as he did for me (pretty much every time you walked into the room) was something of confirmation of how genial Nate is (minus the occasional age-appropriate meltdown). So dinner featured random stories, lots of talk about Nate, and Dave telling me some of his thoughts on the attraction of the area. Outback was packed on this Saturday night, and most of Nate's occasional exclamations were pretty easily lost in the sound of the crowd.
Nate continued to dazzle with his reading ability. Having amazingly figured out phonics at the ripe age of 2 3/4 years old, he was now one month into being three and both keen to read for its own sake as well as eager to show off his reading prowess. We all still laughed some at the idea of this coming back to bite Nate socially later on, especially after such things as the episode at the beginning of the school year where Nate had been taken from the preschool to the first grade classroom to show the first graders that they ought to get cracking on learning to read if Nate could already do it. Fortunately, this was treated more as an amazing novelty act by the first graders, rather than as an excuse to beat up a preschooler. But as long as Nate doesn't get too cocky if he remains ahead of the curve, his social enthusiasm should protect him (along with just being a big kid for his age). Still, given that he recently had created the grading scale of "Smart, Super Smart, and Nathan Smart!", I think everyone will be keeping an eye on this sort of thing.
So I heard about Joe's trials with coordinating Staples' online customer service during Black Friday, and probably talked more with Daniele about her ESL teaching, since we're on more similar ground, professionally. After Dave had gone home, we stayed up until after one talking downstairs, which was an extremely late night for them, but the conversation just kept flowing out them.
The next day, before I had to leave for my flight back to New Orleans, Daniele treated me to a lasagna with an "extra Italian bite" to it from a recipe that I think she said she'd gotten through her Dad, with some of that bite coming from the mixing in of Italian sausage along with the beef of the dish. Nathan said entertaining things through the meal, although for the life of me I cannot remember what his line was that had all three of us bursting out in laughter at one point. I do remember, however, Joe taking him over to his little potty training pot, Nathan doing what he needed to do, and in a fit of generosity announcing, "Mommy's turn!" Good times.
On the flight home, I had a layover at O'Hare, so I found myself (not for the first time) feeling odd about being so close to family but unable to visit. Grace, who seems to like texting more than talking on the phone or FaceTiming, got into a long and playful chat with me as I munched a hasty McDonald's dinner while waiting for my flight to board. She had sparred with me in a similar way just before Thanksgiving, when I was proctoring an exam in my Jesus class and she discovered that she could merrily harass me through the entire thing, eventually spouting Chinese at me (with the help of cousin Julia) in order to out-snark me. So that helped break up some of the drudgery of travel, which was combined for me now with the drudgery of grading. (The downside of last-minute travel plans.)